Saltwater Portrait

Claus Hagelman's hobby is his life

Self-proclaimed beer geek has lived and worked across the country
October 25, 2011
Claus Hagelman, 16 Mile Brewery's sales and marketing director, has lived and worked in various industries throughout the country. Before working at 16 Mile and Dogfish Head, he worked in the art department on the 90s television show In Living Color. BY NICK ROTH

Claus Hagelman, a self-proclaimed beer geek, claims to have had more than 10,000 different beers and is now the director of sales and marketing at 16 Mile Brewery in Georgetown.

But he never intended to work in the beer industry. For him, it was always more of a hobby.

“I started off wanting to be in the advertising game but fell in love with the puzzle pieces of solving 3D design,” he said. “How could you make a chair better and more comfortable?”

Hagelman graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1987 with a degree in furniture design. After working at retail stores for a few years, he made the move to Hollywood. But he didn't travel west with dreams of becoming a well-known actor. Rather, he was ready to put his degree to the test.

Hagelman got a job working in the art department of the popular television program “In Living Color,” a show that launched the careers of Jim Carrey, David Alan Grier and nearly every member of the Wayans family. He also worked on commercials and student films.

Among the highlights of his time in California was touring all the prop houses that stored set pieces from some of the most iconic films of all time, such as Casablanca. But after five years, Hagelman decided Hollywood wasn't for him.

“The one thing about Hollywood is that you never really have a permanent job,” he said. “You're in a continuous state of interviewing. If you get a series, great, you'll be working six, eight months a year. The rest of the time you're at parties trying to find other jobs because the next season might not get picked up.”

Hagelman originally hails from Texas, where his family settled after migrating from Germany in the 1850s. His father, Rudy, a World War II veteran, was an intelligence officer stationed in Germany shortly after war. Rudy fell in love with his family's German heritage and began researching and recording the Hagelman family history. He loved his German heritage so much that each of his five children received authentic German names, learned German, wore lederhosen and learned to play the accordion. Hagelman even spent one summer in Germany working on the family farm.

“There's only about 100 Hagelmans in the world, maybe 125,” he said. “We're all the same family, maybe many generations from each other, but we're all family. I at least added one more Hagelman to the mix.”

Hagelman credits the birth of his son, Jack, as one of the main motivators for his move from Dogfish Head Brewery to 16 Mile. Toward the end of his tenure with Dogfish Head, he often worked 80 hours a week and traveled regularly. Moving to 16 Mile not only gave him the opportunity to have a flexible work schedule, but it also took him back to the early days.

“This is really that kind of creation phase when it's very exciting,” he said. “For me, I love designing point of sale because of my art school and design background.”

He said he loves telling the story of 16 Mile because of its homage to Delaware and Sussex County's history, and believes that will be the key to the brewery's success.

The brewery currently produces 2,500 barrels annually. The goal is to increase production to 20,000 barrels in the next three years. Hagelman said Dogfish Head is anticipating production of about 145,000 barrels this year.

When Hagelman joined the Dogfish family in January 2005, the brewery produced only 20,000 barrels. Getting a job at Dogfish culminated several years of developing a relationship with owner Sam Calagione, he said. After tasting Dogfish Head for the first time, Hagelman said, he knew it was a business he wanted to be part of.

“I sat with these other beer geeks, and we made a statement that he was probably one of the finest brewers that we had ever tasted in our lives and that he would most likely change the face of brewing as we knew it,” he said. “That made enough of an impact that I reached out to get to know Sam and would pester him for years to come about coming to work for him.”

Hagelman's love for beer and wine started at an early age. His father was a wine expert who also had a palate for good beer. His mother was a home version of a gourmet cook, often making meals from around the world. At 16, his love affair with beer began. At a time when 18 was the legal drinking age, Hagelman said he remembers sneaking into a tavern in Tuscon, Ariz., where he developed a good friendship with the bar owner.

“I had the owner sit with me and tell me the story of the different beers, how they were made and the history of why that type of beer was available from that part of the world,” he said. “I really owe a lot to him for helping educate me on something that would become my life.”

After testing the waters in Hollywood and spending a few years working for a Chinese furniture manufacturer, Hagelman jumped into the beer, wine and liquor business. He worked as a wine salesperson for a wine distributor before getting a job as regional director at Paulaner North America. After Heineken purchased a stake in Paulaner in 2001, Hagelman moved to Glazer's, one of the largest distributors of beer, wine and liquor in the country. It's at Glazer's where Hagelman gained the experience he believes Calagione was attracted to.

“I had learned a great reservoir of understanding how a large national distributor thinks,” he said. “I knew it would be helpful to someone like Sam. That's why I took the job, so I could understand how the distributors on a senior management level thought.”

After accepting a job with Dogfish, he moved to Milton in 2004 to begin working as the brewery's national sales manager. It's in Delaware where he met his wife, Susan, and he finally settled down and started a family at 46.

If he had to do it again, he said he wouldn't change a thing.

“The jobs I took did not always pay a lot, but they were grand adventures to live,” he said. “They made me who I am. For that I am thankful. The journey led me here, and here is where home is. My new family is from here, and it's maybe here they sprinkle my ashes. I have a place to lay my hat, and I am thankful for my beautiful new world in Delmarva.”

For more information on 16 Mile Brewery go to